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leap frog / leap-frog

A play among boys, in which one stoops down and another leaps over him by placing his hands on the shoulders of the former. — Webster, 1882

On the prairie yesterday, the air was playing leap-frog with the snowdrifts. – 1884, Grand Forks (Dakota Territory) Daily Herald

Leap frog is usually an outdoor game, which is one of the reasons it was so scandalous for the boys to be playing it in the middle of Eliza Jane Wilder’s classroom in Little Town on the Prairie (see Chapter 15, “The School Board’s Visit”).

According to H. D. Richardson’s Holiday Sports and Pasttimes for Boys (published in 1848), “the ordinary leapfrog is played by one player standing in a stooping posture, with his hands resting on his knees, while another, running up behind him, places his hands upon his shoulders and vaults over his head, a leg passing on either side of it. This may be played by any number of boys, each going down as he arrives at the end of the line, and is very lively, as well as a warming sport, the parties constantly moving onward, and thus combining the exercise of running and leaping.”

As is shown in the 1882 dictionary sketch at right, the stooping player’s hands were placed on the knees, although not rigidly, as they needed to be able to slide down the leg when the back was pressed upon. If any player was much taller than the average, he might cross his arms or bend the knees more, in order to make the jumping height a bit less.

Leapfrog was a game of which most mothers would approve, as it didn’t involve getting the clothes dirty. Girls, too were no stranger to the game. However, as one early newspaper warned, it should never be played over headstones in the cemetery!


leap frog / leap-frog (LTP 15; PG)